If I had a column in the Delft op Zondag

(Not the real)
Delft op Zondag


22 JANUARY 2017

Van Plan / What You Have Planned

DELFT - I call it being stupid, by which I mean ignorant. That is how I feel in Delft despite having lived here ten years now. I can get around, know the short cuts down alleys, and who sells what and where they are.

On the assimilation scale, I score low. I am coming to accept that I will never meet expectations about what a foreigner should do when he moves to the Netherlands. Thus, I turn to advisers when I hit a comprehension wall. No matter the problem, the sessions often begin with me being asked if I have a plan. Other than to live in Delft, I have no plan. The day starts and I start with it; the rest is what is possible. That is not the sensible, adult answer to a simple question. It is true that I believe in a benevolent universe and trust to luck.


"During summer, some days, that little door on the left is open. Inside and up stairs there is a narrow, thin shop which has all three kinds of stuff. There is 'cool' stuff (fans of Terry Prachett know about this), 'neat' stuff (an unknown unknown) and things that do not appeal to me - just everyday stuff."

How things are done in a cafe is yet another. Wait staff are paid reasonably and each has medical insurance by law. They do not rush to your table with eager smiles; they do not introduce themselves; and some will lose patience if you do not know what you want and are dithering.

My partner usually does not correct me although I am the most easy person in all ways. One evening she did. The bill came to 29 euro, and I wanted to give a 5 euro tip. (Tipping as Americans do it is rare in Holland.) She handled it telling the waiter to make the bill for 34 euro. I asked why not pay the bill and tip from the coins on the tray or in your pocket. She said it is not done that way. All right. No one who serves me has objected when I do it my way. I will likely keep on tipping the wrong way and too much.

Once housed, a foreigner then should get on with learning Dutch and changing to how things are done here. It is all in the plan. However, I am not especially good at plans. My experience is they so rarely work, why go to the bother?

Sure a person does need to keep some kind of schedule or a reminder calendar. And it is helpful to make reservations in advance, which commits you to doing something on some date rain or shine. It is probably a good idea to plan meals too.

It is with the larger plans where I come short. Achieving conversational ability in Dutch is one. It is not straightforward. Americans will say it is raining cats and dogs; Dutch say it is raining pipe stems. Too far off for me to remember.

Another great plan is sport. A friend likes to hike, loves mountains and the company of vigorous walkers. Fine except she twisted her ankle going down her own front stairs one day. Her plans collapsed, and she was very unhappy.

It is looking like Holland brings out the stupid in me. Too much is too different, but enough is the same to get by. A sense of humor helps, on both sides. It happens that I do something dumb and so be it. Breathe in, breathe out - repeat as necessary.

G. Wiley / NLStrabo - © Copyright - All rights reserved - gwileynl@gmail.com
In memory of Herb Caen